Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Year of the Historical: Countdown

CountdownCountdown Deborah Wiles

I run a book club at the library for 9-12s. Every month everyone reads a book and then we get together to discuss it. This spring, we read T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, about the space race. When we started our discussion, I talked a little about the cold war and "mutually assured destruction" and... they just didn't get it. It took me awhile, but in our conversation I realized that most of these kids were born after 9/11. Terror threat levels and suicide bombers and rogue nations have always been the background of their lives. They actually found our fear of an enemy that may attack, but hadn't actually done so yet, cute and funny. It blew my mind. It's still blowing my mind.

Countdown is the story of Franny Chapman. Her older sister is keeping secrets that Franny can't figure out. Her younger brother is annoyingly perfect in everything he does. Her uncle is suffering from PTSD based on his experiences in WWI and often doesn't realize he's no longer in the trenches. His outbursts frequently embarrass her in front of her friends, and worry her. Her best friend is spending time with another girl and it seems she no longer wants to be friends with Franny.

But, none of this seems to matter any more when President Kennedy gets on the news and says that the Soviets are sending missiles to Cuba.

At the heart of this story is one could be told today--trying to find your place in your family and changing friendships.

In the background though, is one that's never been told like this before. Frequently, between the chapters, are ephemera collages--pictures, advertisements, quotations from song lyrics and politicians... I think these collages will initially confuse readers, but only to the point where they'll want to know more. Luckily, it's heavily indexed in the back, because some things won't be easily recognized for those of us who didn't grow up in the 60s. I only recognized the text from "The world is a carousel of color" as a Kodak ad campaign because of diligent Mad Men watching. There is some rather dark humor in there as well-- a photo essay of Soviet war ships and the Duck-and-Cover cartoon is labeled with the lyrics to "Locomotion."

This is the first in a project trilogy of companion novels about the 1960s. One thing I'll be interested in for the next novel is if it gets into the Civil Rights movement. Race relations aren't really a part of this story (although Franny's sister's secrets involve "secret codes" that Franny can't figure out, but readers familiar with the history of the Civil Rights movement will recognize SNCC.) It also comes up frequently in the ephemera sections-- pictures of segregated water fountains, text and photos of lunch counter sit-ins, the King family, the freedom rides, and other information. So, the foundation is definitely there, and I'm excited to see what happens next.

A very interesting presentation that's backed by a solidly wonderful story that's not all about a historical event, but about the daily life that goes on while you're worried the world will end.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Caroline Starr Rose said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this.

Peaceful Reader said...

This one keeps popping up for me! Thanks for a great review!